Buda or Pest?

 A city both modern and as old as time…

My mom and I have an annual tradition to take a trip once a year and the destination is mostly somewhere in Europe. This year’s choice was Budapest in Hungary. I had heard many fond impressions about it, so when my mother found a great offer for this trip, the decision was easy. Our trip was booked to take place between 17.-20.08.18, so it was almost the warmest time of the year everywhere in Europe. Estonia was experiencing an extremely hot summer and Budapest was no different… it was even hotter!

We started our cultural trip from the Castle Hill of Varhegy, where the famous Matthias Church is located. The great vistas and architecture made me fall in love with the place. We loved it so much, that we went back there on the other day. The location features cafes and lounges, so you can enjoy your lunch or coffee with the view of the Danube and the other side of the city.

Matthias Church

The West side of the Danube is called Buda and it’s higher up. Some gorgeous historical buildings can be found there, i.e. King’s Castle, which we didn’t have the chance to visit this time. On the other hand, walking around gave us an impression of the lives of the locals, which is located behind the royal building’s line. The East side of the Danube is flatter and also has a lot to see. We went to see the Parliament Building and although I’ve seen some great castles on my trips, this was something special. The visits are done by pre-booking your visit which makes it very organized, as you don’t have to stand in a line, nor walk through the house with hundreds of tourists. The English-speaking guide was witty and told us interesting facts about the building and also about the work of the Hungarian Parlament.

Hungarian Parlament

The Parliament Building and all the other historical buildings looked beautiful especially at night when we had our boat trip on the Danube. Our trip started at 21:30, so it was already dark, and everything lit up in lights. The trip lasted almost an hour and we had a guide with us who explained everything we saw on the shore and on the river. The very important aspect about Budapest is that the city has many bridges which connect the Buda and the Pest. The most famous are the seven bridges in the center of the city and my favorite was the Liberty Bridge. Most well-known is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which was finished in 1849 and became then a symbol for advancement and the national awakening.

On our second day, we traveled to a smaller city, Eger. Before arriving in the city, we stopped in a small village called Hollokö. It is a romantic place with very nice houses and small shops offering unique handicraft. There is also a puppet museum and ceramics workshop. There we tasted some freshly made local rolls and strudles which were delicious! 

While in Eger we visited a castle and had a wine tasting dinner near the city on the same evening. This area is also famous for its wineries and mostly for its red wine called Eger’s Bikaver, which in direct translation means bull’s blood. The Hungarian three-course cuisine was great, and we tasted five different wines, both red and white. They have a specific way to pour the wine into the glass or for those who like to experiment, straight into their mouth. It was a fun evening not only because of all that wine we had, but also since there was a band of gypsy musicians who played almost the whole dinner.

Local police officers are preparing for the parade

We had two days more in Budapest and we spent them exploring the city. We discovered Margaret’s Island, which is between the two parts of the city. It’s a park where you can spend your time walking around, eating in cafes, dancing salsa or watching the musical fountain show. We arrived there late in the evening and enjoyed an hour of colorful fountains. We also visited the city’s biggest market and bought spicy sausage and tasted some street food.

Food was quite an important factor for our trip because while we were there, they had the 20th of August St. Stephen’s Day celebrations. So, the West side of Danube was a LONG street-food area with all the local tastes imaginable for you to try. Because of the celebrations, we saw the parade preparations and everything and there were concerts in the public festival area.

On our last they we decided to visit Budapest’s famous thermal baths and ended up in Szechenyi Bath, which is the biggest and most famous one. I liked the place as an environment and the bathing tradition, but the thermal baths were so overcrowded, that it didn’t feel like a relaxing experience for me. So, I recommend not to go there if you prefer something cozier and I myself will also try to choose a smaller place if I ever end up in Budapest again.

West side of Danube – Buda

 

Besides all the tourist sightseeing it was also great just to walk around the city and on the river bank. The Budapest as a city is so calm, clean and I could stay there for weeks on end and leave without getting the full picture of what the city has to offer. I must say I had some false expectation about Hungary and I don’t even know why. This trip suppressed my prejudices and now I will recommend visiting Budapest to everyone! 

 

 

 

View from the Castle Hill of Varhegy

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Conquering the roof of Africa

The idea to go to Tanzania, Africa came up about four years ago from my course mate. He was telling me, that we should climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the highest peak in Africa (5895 meters)! I haven’t climbed any mountains in my life, except while snowboarding the slopes in Norway, Austria, and Japan. But all these are below 3500 meters and is a completely different experience… I liked the idea of combining an exotic trip with a challenge, which should be doable to everyone. I said yes, but our day-to-day life interrupted planning this great adventure, so finally we started taking the first steps towards the trip last spring. Although we have had plenty of interesting people in our team through the years, our final team was combined before the summer of 2017. There was four of us: Risto, me, Liisa and Berg. A Slovak named Juraj joined our group in Africa.

I did as much research as possible on Kilimanjaro by reading blogs, websites and books. I also met with some people, who had climbed it before. So I had a pretty good overview, what I needed and should be preparing for. The complete and detailed overview about the planning, execution and memories about this trip are covered in my other blog dedicated to this adventure www.kilimanjarole.ee, which is in Estonian. Hence why I will not focus on those details here. I apologize, but you can always ask me to tell you about it… 🙂

Busy day in Moshi

To summarize this trip I have to skip all the emotions, but I’ll manage! For me this trip was planned to take place between 16.02-01.03.2018. We arrived to the Kilimanjaro airport and had a transport organized by our climb organizers from Karibu Adventure. We had one day for resting and for exploring the city of Moshi, from where the hike started. On this free day our guides came to check us and our equipment, to make sure we have it all we would need. 

We started our climb towards the peak of Kilimanjaro on the 18th of February and we had chosen the 6-day Marangu Route for that. This is said to be the easiest road and it’s also the only one with huts. The easy part isn’t true, but I’m really happy we had the huts although we had perfect weather during the whole trip!

The first days of the climb were great, the nature was changing with every step we made and the road was of a medium difficulty. We used walking sticks for most of the climb, but it wasn’t steep enough to whine about it … just yet. On the third day we had an acclimatization day, which we used for a 2-hour hike and resting. We carried our backpacks that contained drinking water, some clothes, and snacks. We had 12 porters total who carried all the other equipment, including our other stuff and cooking supplies. Our bags were not that heavy but every following day was harder than the previous due to the altitude and physical exhaustion.

On our third day we arrived to Horombo camp

The fourth day was our longest hike which lasted about six hours to Kibo Huts (4700 meters) and we were exhausted. We arrived to this camp in the afternoon and had only about 3-4 hours for eating and resting. The wakeup for summit night commenced as early as at 11 pm and then started the nightmare. From Kibo Huts to the Uhuru peak it should take six hours and these hours are the most challenging. The route wasn’t an easy-to-walk trail anymore, but rahter a wall – first the soft sand, then the sand plus gravel and lastly the rocks. I felt so sick after only one hour, so much so that I didn’t eat nor drink almost anything after that. I just focused on putting one leg in front of the other. My head was dizzy and I was shaking from the freezing night’s cold and there were few times I thought I should give up and do something better with my time.

But I didn’t gave up! We reached the peak about eight in the morning, when the sun was shining. It was warmer and so amazingly beautiful. We were super tired, nearly dead, but somehow we managed to get some nice pictures for memories. Our guides were bossing us down just after 15 minutes and then started the other unpleasant experience – trying to get down from the mountain. It took me three hours to get back to the Kibo camp. There we had a slight meal and we had to go all the way back to Horombo camp (3700 meters), to stay there for the night. I don’t know from where I got my strength to go down but when we reached Horombo, I was so overwhelmed and tired like never before in my life!

On the roof of Africa!

After the Kilimanjaro climb we had a few rest days, so we visited the Kikuletwa Hotsprings and simply enjoyed the sun and the pool at our hotel. The rest of our team was flying back to Estonia, but I stayed in Tanzania to explore the local safaris. I travelled to Arusha, for three day safary started from there. During these days I visited Tarangire, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro parks. I mostly enjoyed Tarangire and Ngorongoro, because of the animals and nature I saw there. I also visited a (fake) Masai village and since I still had time to my flight back home, I went to the Cultural Heritage Centre with one other safari mate. I strongly recommend this centre, since it’s like an art gallery-shop with so many different exhibits, which will give you a great overview of Africa’s arts and crafts.

Zebras in Ngorongoro

It’s has already been a over a month since I arrived back from Tanzania. I’ve had time to recall all the great places, animals and things I saw, the people I met, the things I did, and the emotions I felt. This was definitely one of the top experiences in my life and I recommend to mark this adventure down to your bucket list. Africa is something totally different and I wanna go back there someday to explore new places and experience more of their kind of lifestyle.

Hakuna matata! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Tanzanite

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Roza Khutor in Sochi – A Russian treasure waiting to be discovered (again)

This year’s travel fever started in January with a snowboarding trip to Sochi, Russia. This summary is written about the trip three months later, but I still have a lot of great emotions (and words) surfacing still. The idea to go there actually came last year and from a friend, who has gone there for two years now to ski. He told us that the slope and snow conditions there are good and prices reasonable. So this was an option we were thinking about while planning our snowboarding trip in 2017. In the end, we decided to go to Japan instead, but the idea of enjoying snowboarding in Russia became topical again this year. We had an opportunity to go to Sochi for 11 days and without too much thought, our trip was set to happen between 15.-25.01.2018.

In order to go to Russia, you’ll need a visa, so this was the first thing I did after getting the plane tickets. In Estonia, you can apply for a regular visa or the expedited one, which you’ll get in about 4 days. This is a great option for impromptu decision makers like me… 🙂 It’s easy to fly to Sochi, as we just had to switch planes in Moscow and our travel time in total was about 4-5 hours. While on the trip, I heard that Aeroflot is planning to have direct flights from Tallinn to Sochi as early as this year, but I assume these are for the summer season. Either way, it’s great and convenient.

Roza Khutor

Our accommodation was about 85 kilometers away from Sochi city, in the Roza Khutor resort. This is a small village/town, which was totally rebuilt for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. The Mzymta river flows through the city and gives it a special charm. Roza Khutor looks still new and polished, but most of the houses are almost empty, since there aren’t that many winter-tourists there, after new years celebrations. Accommodation providers don’t want to lower their prices, but they’re okay with having no clients. Go figure! 🙂

Our vacation lasted 9 days and we decided that we use 7 of them for snowboarding and 2 for tourist activities. You can buy a combined ticket and choose the mountain days so that they don’t have to be consecutive. We decided on our mountain days mostly after checking the weather. We had sun almost every other day which also meant that some days were really snowy with poor visibility. But the fresh snow was great and gave us an opportunity to enjoy powdery and untouched trails. Our choice for snowboarding were the longer and more interesting trails which featured beautiful wide off-road slopes and forestry.

It’s really easy to go wandering there and I loved that even if we didn’t know, where this “fantasy trail” would lead us, we always ended up next to some lift. There are three main mountain slopes and enough pubs and cafes between tracks for rest and to enjoy the view. You can also have a ride with a dogsled pulled by huskies. All the lifts and gondolas are modern and I was really happy about the seat heating. The highest you can get by lift is to Roza Peak at 2320 meters. There is a photographer and you can take and buy great pictures right there on the mountaintop. There are also people offering paragliding and although we thought about it, we didn’t have enough money with us, when it was the right weather. I’ve done it in Estonia but gliding over the mountain seemed magical. Definitely gonna do it next time!

Paraglider

We loved that even during the most popular days there weren’t too many snow lovers on the mountain. We didn’t have to wait a lot of time in lift lines or fight with someone for the best run :). Most of the people in the resort were Russians, so they saw us as someone exotic. There were a lot of conversations on the lifts about where we’re coming from and what are our thoughts about Sochi. All the people we interacted on this trip, were so kind and friendly and I loved practicing my beginner’s Russian language.

Matryoshka in Ethno Park

On our evenings and free days, we discovered the Roza Khutor village. There are some hiking trails, a mountain river, a market, shops (e.g. fur boutiques), an Ethno Park with huskies and matryoshka dolls, some restaurants and bars and even a great establishment for enjoying the night-life. In our village, we loved having ribs, the great music and watching snowboard cross on the TV in the ALASKA Bar & Grill. We also went to the neighboring villages to see the cinema, casino, spa, and dinner places. In addition to regional food, we also tasted some fine alcohol (e.g. Georgian wine, Armenian Cognac) and bought a lot of famous Russian candies. There is a bigger place called Esto-Sadok near Roza Khutor, which is an Estonian village. Years ago, there were many Estonians living there, but during the Olympics preparations they had enough of all the restructuring and moved away.

We left one tourist day for Sochi city and the Olympic Park. This day went by too fast, but we visited some parks and the botanical garden. We tried out famous Russian fur coats and enjoyed walking on the promenade by the Black Sea. While in Rosa Khutor the weather was -3…+3 in the village and as low as -10 Celsius degrees up on the mountain, in Sochi it was warmer and about +13 Celsius degrees. After the city tour, we went to the Olympic Park, which is located a half an hour drive outside Sochi. We arrived there just in time to enjoy a fountain show with most famous classic Russian music and afterward a European pop playlist. The Olympic Park is also a place where everything is waiting for a new chance to be in use – all the accommodation and training facilities are half-empty and half-in-use, so it was a bit sad to see all these great opportunities to be sitting in idle. Fortunately, the 2017 F1 Russian Grand Prix took place there last year. This year the Sochi’s Olympic Park will be hosting FIFA World Cup, so the forgotten treasure will shine again!

Olympic Park

I really loved this trip for many reasons, of which the main are:

  • the great snowy mountain, trails, and easy-to-go off-roads,
  • the good weather conditions,
  • the Russians and their food (+ regional, e.g. Georgian cuisine), culture and interaction,
  • the cultural activities we had and
  • the great price and quality balance.

As we experienced, mountain ticket is cheaper in Sochi, but living expenses are similar to the Alps. There are other smaller slopes in other Sochi villages next to Roza Khutor, so if you get bored of one resort, you can try others. We didn’t, at least not this time! 🙂 We ended our trip on the way to the airport with the adrenaline rush in Skypark. There was a Megatroll ride, which was starting from the 439 meters long Skybridge at an altitude of 207 meters above the ground. I was totally scared, my pulse was up, legs were shaking, but the experience was great and we were ready for our flight back home!

Roza Khutor

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